Best Unilateral Leg Strengthening Exercises for Runners

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I know the importance of strength training for runners.  But, what isn’t clear to me is the best strength training exercises to include in my training program that will assist my training efforts.  Until now.

Check out the following exercises recommended by our contributor, Shaun Zetlin.


Strength Training Routine for Runners

Training Unilaterally

It is imperative to have both your left and right side equally strong instead of relying on your dominant side of natural strength when running. If both sides of your body aren’t equally strong, then it’s likely that some compensation or overexertion can occur on your dominant side while running when feeling fatigued. Therefore, when strength training, perform two to three sets of 12-24 repetitions while training your legs.

1. Split Lunge

This exercise will provide a deep stretch for your hip flexors and quadriceps while strengthening the glutes. It works your glutes intensely, and stronger glutes are critical for proper function for any runner. To start, prop the toes of one foot onto a flat surface that is about one foot in height and placed about two feet behind you (therefore creating a 120-degree angle in your leg). While keeping your bent leg and toes secure, stabilize your standing leg on the ground for support. Place your hands crossed and flat against your chest. Next, slowly lower your torso and lunge downward, bending your back knee as low to the ground as possible. Pause at the bottom of the lunge for a solid second while keeping optimal posture without leaning forward. Then, rise up from the lunge to the starting position to complete the exercise.

CHALLENGE: Try to have your bent knee touch the ground gently with each lunge. On the other hand, if your balance is not quite there, use a pole or the wall to help with stabilization.

Executing 4 sets total of 2 sets on each side performing 12 repetitions should be a great goal.

2. Step Up with Knee Up

This is an effective exercise since it strengthens each leg unilaterally on an incline and simultaneously engages the core for balance. To start, place a stable box or exercise stool of about one foot in height in front of you. With your arms crossed and flat against your chest, step up onto the box gently with one foot. Your other leg will then perform a “knee up” gesture which is the act of flexing your knee to go higher than hip level. To finish the exercise, step back down to the starting position.

REMINDER: Be gentle on your joints when stepping up onto the box, keep optimal posture throughout the exercise, and keep your hands crossed on your chest so you aren’t tempted to utilize any momentum with your upper body.

Perform 4 sets total, 2 sets of 24 repetitions for a concrete goal.

Shaun Zetlin, Founder, Zetlin Fitness

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